South Sudan urged the United States to lift sanctions on Sudan ahead of the southern region's independence on July 9 to avoid hitting the new nation's oil-based economy. The south voted to separate from the north, dividing Africa's largest nation in two, in a January referendum promised under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
Oil is the lifeblood of both economies, especially in the underdeveloped south where petroleum revenues account for 98 percent of the annual budget. Around 75 percent of Sudan's 500,000 barrels per day production comes from the south but only the north has the port and refineries to sell the oil. "We rely in southern Sudan on oil revenues, and... according to the American sanctions on the whole of Sudan, oil is a sanctioned commodity," southern Vice President Riek Machar said after returning home from a visit to the United States. "We lobbied that this time it is necessary that the sanctions on the whole of Sudan be reviewed and actually, preferably, lifted," he told reporters at the airport of the southern capital Juba.
Washington has had a trade embargo on Sudan in place since 1997 and also lists the country as state sponsor for terrorism. Khartoum hosted prominent militants such as Osama bin Laden. Khartoum has been hoping Washington would end all sanctions but U.S. officials are concerned about the situation in the western Darfur region. According to U.N. estimates, 300,000 people died following a government counter-insurgency campaign. Khartoum puts the figure at 10,000.
Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington was also "gravely concerned about the humanitarian situation in Southern Kordofan," a northern state where the army has been fighting southern-aligned armed groups. With only days to go before the Republic of South Sudan is founded, north and south have yet to resolve some urgent issues, including an ill-defined, war-ravaged border, and how to divide Sudan's roughly $38 billion of debt and its oil revenues. Northern President Omar Hassan al-Bashir threatened last week to shut down oil pipelines if the south refuses to pay transit fees or keep the current arrangement after it secedes.